The Science and Religion Dialogue

Past and Future

by Michael Welker (Volume editor)
©2014 Conference proceedings 297 Pages


This book documents the conference on The Science and Religion Dialogue: Past and Future, held at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, October 25-29, 2012. The conference commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir John Templeton and the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the John Templeton Foundation. It brought together about 60 active participants, all of them prominent scholars from many countries and many academic fields. Most of them have been engaged in the Science and Religion Dialogue for the last two or three decades. This book reports on multi-year international and interdisciplinary research projects at leading institutions. The contributions start with presentations by Hans Joas, Martin Nowak and John Polkinghorne and range from Astronomy, Mathematics, Physics and Biology to Philosophical Theology and Religious Ethics. Special topics of the dialogue between Science and Religion are also dealt with, such as Eschatology and Anthropology; Cosmology, Creation, and Redemption; Evolutionary Biology and the Spirit; and The Role of Thought Experiments in Science and Theology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • I. Celebrating the Past – Shaping the Future
  • The Science and Religion Dialogue: Past and Future
  • The Science and Religion Dialogue: Past and Future
  • Opening Address
  • Commemorating Sir John Templeton (1912–2012)
  • Science and Religion Dialogue
  • II. On the Engagement of Science and Religion
  • The Natural History of Religion
  • God and Evolution
  • The Search for Truth
  • III. The Science and Theology Dialogue I: Multi-Year Research Projects
  • A Contribution to the Eschatology Session
  • Eschatology, Anthropology, and Concepts of Law
  • The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion – the First Seven Years
  • Theological Inquiry and the Science and Religion Dialogue
  • Science and Redemption: The Future of Creation
  • Scientific Cosmology and the Theologies of Creation and Redemption
  • IV. The Science and Theology Dialogue II: Multicontextual Dimensions
  • The Dialogue between Science and Religion in Russia
  • The Role of Thought Experiments in Science and Religion
  • A Postfoundationalist Approach to Theology and Science
  • Insiders and Outsiders in ‘Religion and Science’
  • V. Astronomy and Mathematics
  • Cosmology and the Human Condition
  • Note on Formal Reasoning in Theology
  • VI. Physics and Biology
  • The Search for Evidence-Based Reality
  • If the Evolution of Intelligence is inevitable, then what are the Metaphysical Consequences?
  • The Use of Metaphors when Talking about the Nature of Organisms
  • VII. Religious Ethics and Philosophical Theology
  • Atheism and Analytical Thinking
  • Freedom within Religion. Religious Ethics and Social Life
  • VIII. Philanthropic Investment and the Future Generations: Three (of Sixty) Winners of the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise (2007–2011)
  • The Templeton Award and Professional Development for Young Scholars
  • “The Divine Fire in All Things” – Orthodox Cosmology in Dialogue with Science
  • God’s Spirituality. The Trinitarian Dynamics of Prayer
  • Contributors


This book documents a four-day conference in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir John Templeton and of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of his John Templeton Foundation. It brought together about 60 active participants, most of them leading scholars, from many countries and many academic fields, who have been engaged in the “Science and Religion Dialogue” or, as some preferred to say, the “Science and Theology Dialogue” in the last two or three decades. The book reports on multi-year international and interdisciplinary research projects at leading institutions as well as on the Foundation’s strong support of upcoming generations of researchers.

The conference started on 25 October 2012 with a public event in the Great Hall of the University of Heidelberg, Germany. It continued the following days at the Internationales Wissenschaftsforum der Universität Heidelberg (IWH) with presentations and discussions among the scholars. The complete conference was streamed and documented on the web. In the first year, it has already been visited over 11,000 times. This book documents the main results of the event, which was planned and orchestrated by the Forschungszentrum Internationale und Interdiszipliäre Theologie (FIIT) Heidelberg in a readable form.

On the first day, in honor of Sir John Templeton and the two anniversaries mentioned above, addresses were given by John M. Templeton, Jr., President of the JTF, Stephen Post and Michael Murray, and from the Vice-President of the University of Heidelberg, Thomas Pfeiffer and Michael Welker, director of the FIIT. These addresses were followed by three lectures addressing the general topic:

On the Engagement of Science and Religion,

  1. Hans Joas (University of Freiburg and University of Chicago): The Natural History of Religion;
  2. Martin Nowak (Harvard University): God and Evolution;
  3. John Polkinghorne (Cambridge University): The Search for Truth.

The following days, presentations were given and discussed on the sub-topics:

The Science and Theology Dialogue. Multi-Year Research Projects

John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker spoke about multi-year projects on topics of Eschatology, Anthropology and Concepts of Law, which they had chaired ← 9 | 10 → at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton (CTI), in Cambridge, UK, and in Germany (Heidelberg, Düsseldorf and Berlin).

Denis Alexander reported the success story of the Faraday Institute, Cambridge, UK, which hosted many academic events on the topic, but also many educational projects for the broader public.

Robin Lovin and Friederike Nüssel presented a multi-year project that they had organized at the CTI, Princeton, with support from the Templeton Foundation.

Ted Peters and Robert Russell explained interfaces between theology and science that had stimulated research and discourse at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley.

The Science and Religion Dialogue: Multicontextual Dimensions

Cyril Hovorun reported on the dialogue between science and religion in Russia. From a European and a North American perspective, Niels Gregersen and Wentzel van Huyssteen sketched postfoundational approaches to the dialogue and the impact on it by a “post-modern” climate of thinking. Contributions from Astronomy and Mathematics (Chris Impey, Matthias Baaz and Harvey Friedman), from Physics and Biology (Andrew Briggs, Simon Conway Morris and Gunter Wagner) and finally from Religious Ethics and Philosophical Theology (Kelly James Clark and William Schweiker) gave an impression of the enormous breadth of the fields and concerns that have shaped this dialogue in the past.

The conference was concluded with the unit Philanthropic Investment and the Future Academic Generation. We document presentations from three of the sixty winners of the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise (2007–2011), by the German scholar for American studies Jan Stievermann, the Orthodox theologian Daniel Munteanu from Romania and the Austrian Protestant theologian Eva Harasta.

I.  Celebrating the Past – Shaping the Future

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Thomas Pfeiffer

The Science and Religion Dialogue: Past and Future

It is my pleasure to welcome you all on behalf of the University of Heidelberg at the opening ceremony of the three-day conference on The Science and Religion Dialogue: Past and Future. My particular greetings go to the participants in this conference.

You have come here from leading universities from all over the world and from many fields: physics, biology, mathematics and astronomy, philosophy, psychology, theology and religious, historical and ethical studies. Most of you have been engaged in the dialogue between scientific modes of thought on the one hand and the rationalities of different faith traditions on the other. These faith traditions cover not only the broad spectrum of Christian confessions, but also Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

Apart from the highly established scholars in their fields, I extend my greetings to the group of doctoral and postdoctoral scholars, most of whom were winners of the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise, a prize they received here in Heidelberg; and to the five international winners of the recent essay contest on the Science and Religion Dialogue.

It is my special pleasure today to welcome Dr. John Templeton, Jr., Dr. Pina Templeton and the representatives of the John Templeton Foundation. We are delighted to host the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the chartering of the Templeton Foundation, as well as the 100th anniversary of Sir John Templeton’s birth. He established his foundation as a philanthropic organization that funds interdisciplinary research to advance human progress through new discoveries. One of the main goals of the foundation was the stimulation and support of academic discourses between the areas of science and religion or, rather, science, theology, religious studies and the philosophy of religion. These areas of knowledge have very much moved apart from each other, especially in modernity. It has been doubted whether any meaningful exchange between them is possible, and there have even been fears that the contact between these two areas of knowledge leads to obscurantism.

The second half of the twentieth century, however, saw the emergence of academic and civil societal institutions that regarded this split of rationality as unfortunate and initiated the dialogue on topics crucial for both sides, ← 13 | 14 → such as cosmology, anthropology, eschatology and ethical responsibility. Leading academic institutions, particularly in the USA and Great Britain, created university chairs for Theology and Science, or Science and Religious Studies.

Sir John had not only a genius perception of the powers of the economic markets. He also had a deep sense for the creative potentials of the dialogue between scientific and religious thought despite its uncertainties and risks. Accordingly, for the past 25 years, the John Templeton Foundation has supported many research projects in this field. The University of Heidelberg and its Research Center for International and Interdisciplinary Theology were among the institutions that received major grants from the John Templeton Foundation. Above all, in one of his last founding decisions, Sir John established the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise at this university. Young scholars from across the globe were invited to apply for it with their doctoral dissertation or their first post-doctoral work in the area of “God and Spirituality” (broadly understood). Each year, 12 of them received a substantial prize after a strict evaluation process by 25 scholars from different fields and from 19 countries. In the days following the award ceremony (held in this room) they presented their next academic projects at the Internationales Wissenschaftsforum, where an academic conference will start tomorrow. The award very quickly made a name for itself on a global scale. When the John Templeton Foundation had to terminate it after five years because of its legal rules, the Heidelberg Manfred Lautenschlaeger Foundation decided to continue the prize as the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise.

This opening ceremony, apart from commemorating Sir John and celebrating the 25th anniversary of his foundation, intends to mirror the broad spectrum of its support in the science and religion discourse. We are very glad to welcome the three speakers from different fields, namely Professor Hans Joas from the Universities of Freiburg and Chicago, who will give a short presentation on “The Natural History of Religion.” We are grateful that Professor Martin Nowak from Harvard University will deal with the topic “God and Evolution.” Finally, it is a particular joy to welcome Professor John Polkinghorne from the University of Cambridge, UK; he has repeatedly been a guest professor in Heidelberg and is also a Von Humboldt prize winner. His lecture is entitled “The Search for Truth.”

We are looking forward to a stimulating event tonight and a fruitful conference. ← 14 | 15 →

Michael Welker

The Science and Religion Dialogue: Past and Future

The Science and Theology Dialogue has been well established in Heidelberg since 1958. Located above Heidelberg’s famous castle, the Research Center of Protestant Churches in Germany, the FEST, has cultivated this dialogue in consultations, workshops and publications. Its current topics are interdisciplinary anthropology, concepts of nature and questions of bioethics. In 1987, the year the John Templeton Foundation was established, one of the FEST’s members, Professor Jürgen Hübner, biologist and theologian, published a book of more than 500 pages titled The Dialogue between Theology and the Natural Sciences: A Bibliographical Report.1 Today, it would probably need ten volumes of similar size to provide an update of the bibliography.

My own serious interest in this dialogue dates back to a multi-year project at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, the CTI, in the early 1990s, designed by its former director, Daniel Hardy. I had the privilege to meet international colleagues who had been engaged in the Science and Religion Dialogue for quite some time. From this group of longtime dialogue partners, I am most happy to welcome today the distinguished colleagues John Polkinghorne and Janet Soskice from Cambridge, UK, John Headley Brooke from Oxford and Durham, William Schweiker and Kathryn Tanner from, respectively, the University of Chicago and the Yale Divinity School, Wentzel van Huyssteen from Princeton, Ted Peters and Robert Russell from Berkeley, Owen Gingrich from Harvard, Willem Drees from Leiden and Niels Gregersen from Copenhagen.

When we first met, several of these colleagues had already established a cooperation with the John Templeton Foundation. In the late 1990s, the Foundation offered me a grant to explore and document the Science and Theology Dialogue in German-speaking countries. First, in a rather complicated search, we identified more than 20 doctoral students and postdocs who worked on the topic. We brought them together for a workshop in the International Scientific Forum, the IWH Heidelberg. For several of them, it was a turning point in their view of themselves, because they realized that they were not academic loners, ← 15 | 16 → strange people with a strange academic hobby, but rather part of a community of researchers. It was a moving event. In another project we explored various models of discourse and their potentials, models that had been established and cultivated in Princeton and Cambridge, UK, in Zurich and Berkeley, in Marburg and Heidelberg, and in the Papal summer residence Castel Gandolfo. It was very interesting to see and discuss the question: Where do the strengths and potentials for further development in the individual projects lie?

My next contacts with the Foundation occurred through several excellent consultations orchestrated by Dr. Mary Ann Meyers and individual scholars under the heading The Humble Approach Initiative. I had the privilege to co-organize with Dr. Meyers one consultation with the first generation of academic Pentecostal theologians in New York and one consultation with Russian Orthodox scientists and theologians here in Heidelberg.2

At the CTI in Princeton, we had had very good experiences with international and interdisciplinary multi-year consultations in Science and Theology and achieved fine results.3 We convinced the Foundation to support three such multi-year consultations in Heidelberg. One of them was Body, Soul, Spirit: The Complexity of the Human Person.4 The second series of consultations explored Concepts of Law in the Sciences, Legal Studies and Theology.5 The third project dealt with Law and Love: Science and Religion in China and the West.6 All these initiatives, together with the very successful John Templeton Award for Theological Promise7 mentioned earlier by the Vice-President, have greatly contributed ← 16 | 17 → to developing the Research Center for International and Interdisciplinary Theology (Forschungszentrum Internationale und Interdisziplinäre Theologie, FIIT) here in Heidelberg and to establish the Global Network of Research Centers for Theology, Religious and Christian Studies, in which about 45 universities from all continents are involved. Here we exchange doctoral students and postdocs for one term and create new forms of academic cooperation.

These good experiences encouraged the Heidelberg physicist Jörg Hüfner and me, together with the biologist Hermann Bujard and the assyriologist Stefan Maul, to create a discussion group among professors from the humanities and the sciences. This was not easy, but has turned out to be very rewarding. Today, the dialogue across disciplines that seem to operate very far from each other is a matter of course in this university, a university that proudly understands itself as a “comprehensive university.” The John Templeton Foundation has greatly contributed to the fact that theology and religious studies are constructive and vital conversation partners in this multidisciplinary cooperation. Therefore, we are very grateful that, together with you, we can celebrate the harvest of 25 years of your radiation, a radiation that among many places in the world has also extended to the University of Heidelberg. ← 17 | 18 →


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ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Naturwissenschaft Theologie Ethik Dialog
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 297 pp., 6 graphs

Biographical notes

Michael Welker (Volume editor)

Michael Welker is a senior professor at the University of Heidelberg and the director of the Research Center International and Interdisciplinary Theology.


Title: The Science and Religion Dialogue
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